Justin Herbert electrifies in Los Angeles Chargers debut

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Justin Herbert provided a spark for the Los Angeles Chargers in his first NFL start.

In the 2020 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Chargers invested in their future, selecting former Oregon Ducks quarterback, Justin Herbert, sixth overall. The team had a plan in place to ease Herbert into action, but that plan went down the drain Sunday afternoon.

In a similar fashion to the Cleveland Browns in 2018, the Los Angeles Chargers brought in Tyrod Taylor to be a “bridge” quarterback to their early first-round pick. But unfortunately for Taylor, injury plagued him in both places. Just as former number one overall pick, Baker Mayfield, was thrust into action early in his rookie season after a Taylor injury, Justin Herbert earned his first career NFL start on Sunday after Taylor was ruled out with a chest injury just prior to kickoff.

What could you possibly expect from a rookie quarterback making a surprise start just two games into his NFL career? Well, how about nearly leading a team that won just five games a year ago to a victory over the defending Super Bowl Champions.

Despite the fact, as Herbert explains above, that he found out he was starting this big divisional rivalry mere seconds before kickoff, Herbert led his team down the field and scored his first career NFL touchdown on his very first drive.

As he did three times in the Rose Bowl, Herbert used his legs to give his Los Angeles Chargers an early lead against his Super Bowl MVP counterpart, Patrick Mahomes, and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Throughout his first career start, Herbert showed a lot of very impressive flashes. His progressions and ball placement were quick and on point, early and often. He exhibited his impressive zip on multiple occasions and, for the most part, made smart and sound decisions.

The offense that head coach Anthony Lynn and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen ran with Herbert on Sunday played to his strengths, closely resembling the one he ran last season at Oregon. With lots of screens and quick hitters opening up the occasional deep shot, Herbert was clearly comfortable at the helm in his debut, even given the fact that Herbert had not thrown a single pass from under center in his college career.

Herbert certainly wasn’t perfect in his first NFL action, something I will get into more in a second, but he was incredibly impressive with many of the little things that go along with being a successful NFL quarterback.

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Although the offense did feature a lot of short swing and screen passes to backs and receivers, Herbert’s ball placement was excellent. It takes great touch to accurately lead his targets on those types of passes, and Herbert allowed his playmakers in Austin Ekeler, Josh Kelley and Keenan Allen to grab the ball in stride and make plays in the open field. On the quick hitters over the middle of the field to tight end Hunter Henry, Herbert delivered passes perfectly to shield his receiver away from defenders and leading him to open space.

Throughout the majority of the game, Herbert didn’t try to do too much. He effectively took what the defense gave him and didn’t force something that wasn’t there. He threw the ball away on multiple occasions when under pressure and his primary read wasn’t there, displaying his high football IQ that allowed him to learn his fourth new offense since he arrived in Eugene for college.

As impressive as Justin Herbert was in his Los Angeles Chargers debut, a couple of key mistakes contributed to the ultimate loss that the team suffered in overtime.

There were a few throws throughout the game that got away from Herbert a bit, costing the team some key first down conversions on third down. Also, Herbert seemed a bit hesitant to run the ball all game long, especially on read options. Despite his first drive rushing touchdown, Herbert had many more opportunities to gain yardage on the ground but instead handed it off to his back directly into the teeth of the defense.

There was no bigger error for Herbert than a late third quarter decision to bypass an easy first down on the ground for a cross-body throw deep down the field.

As you can see, up eight late in the game against arguably the most dynamic offense in the NFL, Herbert forced the pass into double coverage over the middle of the field which was ultimately picked off by fellow rookie L’Jarius Sneed. Herbert clearly had easy first-down yardage on the ground, taking the team into fringe field goal territory. But instead of a potential two-score game, the Chargers gave the ball back to Mahomes and the Chiefs who promptly drove down the field 95 yards and converted a two-point try to tie the ball game.

The Los Angeles Chargers still managed to take a late-game lead and nearly held on for the victory. However, a Chiefs game-tying field goal as time expired, a quick three-and-out after winning the opening coin toss of overtime for LA and a second 58-yard field goal of the game from KC kicker Harrison Butker put the game away for the Chiefs.

Ultimately, Justin Herbert had a spectacular NFL debut. Ending with 311 passing yards and two touchdowns (one rushing and one passing) to go along with his 94.4 passer rating, a mark higher than his counterpart in Patrick Mahomes, the future is clearly bright for Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers.

While he wasn’t perfect and made one key mistake that may have ultimately cost his team a surprising victory, the fact that he kept them in position to win throughout the game’s entirety is a feat in its own right.

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With not even a minute of heads up that he would be starting his first career NFL game, Justin Herbert came out firing and showed that he has what it takes to compete at a very high level in the NFL. If he can go head-to-head with the best of the best in his first-ever game action as a rookie, the NFL should be on high alert for what this kid has in store down the road.

For now, head coach Anthony Lynn says that if Tyrod Taylor is 100% healthy then he is the team’s starting quarterback. But as Matthew Berry suggests in the tweet above, it may be in the best interest of the Los Angeles Chargers if Justin Herbert can stay at the helm and continue to grow into the quarterback that they believe he can be.